Afghan President Hamid Karzai is stubbornly refusing to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that will guarantee a residual U.S. force presence remains in Afghanistan post-2014. In doing so, he is ignoring the advice of U.S. and Iraqi officials and his own country’s tribal leaders—and jeopardizing the security of Afghanistan and the entire region.
According to a recent New York Times article, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari advised Karzai to sign the BSA, bluntly telling him not to be under any illusions that America is desperate to stay in Afghanistan and suggesting that his inflexibility is playing with fire.
Zebari cautioned Karzai that without his action on the BSA, American troops could exit Afghanistan, leaving the country in an eerily similar position to Iraq after U.S. troops withdrew from the country in 2011. Iraq has experienced significant levels of violence this past year and has recently sought U.S. security assistance to cope with a revived al-Qaeda.
In early December, James Carafano, Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, expressed concern that the Obama Administration has sought a zero-troop option from the beginning. If this is the case, then Karzai’s reluctance to sign an agreement merely plays into the hand of the White House—and Afghanistan will simply become a repeat of Iraq.
Heritage Senior Fellow Lisa Curtis cautioned that
the recent increase in al-Qaeda violence in Iraq should serve as a warning that failure to maintain a residual force in Afghanistan would increase instability throughout South and Central Asia.
Curtis also pointed out that failure to conclude a security agreement in the near future means that
the U.S. could end up leaving zero forces in Afghanistan, similar to the way it completely pulled out of Iraq in 2011. Two years later, Iraq is experiencing a major upsurge in terrorist violence from a revived al-Qaeda. A similar situation in Afghanistan would be devastating for regional security and also jeopardize the safety of western nations as they would face an emboldened network of Islamist terrorists with global ambitions.
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and other U.S. officials have stated that they are considering and even preparing for a zero-troop option come 2014, unless Karzai signs the BSA soon. Without a solid security agreement and sufficient U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the safety and security of Afghanistan is in question.
Karzai claims to be holding out for better terms for the Afghan people, but the deal has already been reviewed and affirmed by Afghanistan’s grand council, the Loya Jirga. Members of the Jirga urged Karzai to sign the deal promptly, but Karzai has stated that he will not sign an agreement until after the April 2014 elections.
If Karzai won’t listen to his own tribal elders urging him to sign the BSA, he is unlikely to listen to the Iraqi leader, either. Meanwhile, he is putting the future of Afghanistan—and the entire region—in jeopardy.